An Assignment Sequence for Basic Writing

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In drafting the assignment sequence for the fall semester basic writing course, Introduction to Academic Writing, I keep in mind one of Shaughnessy’s key questions from her essay, “Some Needed Research on Writing”: “What goes on and ought to go on in the composition classroom?” (Also see Teaching Developmental Writing 4e.) My response to that question always returns to the needs of the students and the primary goal of the course: to grow and develop as academic writers. 

With this goal in mind, the assignment sequence focuses on introducing students to two primary concerns in writing for academic growth and development: coping with cognitive dissonance and learning resilience.  Focusing on these concerns offers students an opportunity to move outside their comfort zones while practicing the processes and creating the products of academic writing.

This draft of the assignment sequence includes the three major writing projects required for Introduction to Academic Writing, and all of these writing projects ask students to concentrate on close reading to develop writing. The assignment sequence, with links to the major readings, is listed below. In a future post, I will address more incremental process work for invention, drafting, and revision.

Writing Project 1: Forming and Transforming Stereotypes

For Writing Project 1, you are invited to read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk The Danger of a Single Story.” Then you are asked to write an essay that considers the following questions, based on Adichie’s talk: How and why are stereotypes formed and transformed? Does Adichie’s theory of single or multiple stories hold implications for college students? Are you persuaded by her theory? Why or why not? 

Writing Project 2: Education as Problem/Solution

In Writing Project 1, you considered stories and stereotypes. Build on this knowledge and learn new theories for Writing Project 2 as you read and write about problems and solutions associated with education. In doing so, you will take part in a conversation that has engaged and concerned our country for generations. To being the discussion read “Our Universities, the Outrageous Reality” by Andrew DelBanco. Then, based on the article, consider an issue that poses a potential problem in education for your generation. Why would your generation consider this issue a potential problem in education? What practices, experiences, or solutions would you suggest to ameliorate this issue so that future students do not encounter the same potential problem? Why would this solution work to address the problem?

Writing Project 3: Define and Foster Resilience

This semester we have considered forming and transforming stereotypes, and solutions to potential problems in education. Writing Project 3 invites you to create a policy or program designed to build resilience for first-year year students nearing the end of their first semester in college. First, read the suggestions offered in the two articles from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, “The Science of Resilience” and “Public Policy and Resilience.” Then, based on the articles, write an essay that offers your own definition of resilience and creates a program or policy to foster resilience for first-year college students nearing the end of their first semester in college.

About the Author
Susan Naomi Bernstein (she/they) writes, teaches, and quilts, in Queens, NY. She blogs for Bedford Bits, and her recent publications include “The Body Cannot Sustain an Insurrection” in the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics and “After Basic Writing” in TETYC. Her book is Teaching Developmental Writing. Other publications include “Theory in Practice: Halloween Write-In,” with Ian James, William F. Martin, and Meghan Kelsey in Basic Writing eJournal 16.1, “An Unconventional Education: Letter to Basic Writing Practicum Students in Journal of Basic Writing 37.1, “Occupy Basic Writing: Pedagogy in the Wake of Austerity,” in Nancy Welch and Tony Scott’s collection Composition in the Age of Austerity. Susan also has published on Louisa May Alcott, and has exhibited her quilts in Phoenix, Arizona and Brooklyn, NY.